By Anne McMullin
San Francisco residents are fortunate to have a growing number of restaurants offering different regional Chinese cuisine. Although China is an enormous country with a long history of diverse and very distinct regional cooking styles, until fairly recently most people were not that familiar with the many different cuisines.
However, in addition to the more familiar Cantonese, Hunan and Sichuan restaurants, Bay Area diners are now being introduced to the tastes and unique dishes of well over a dozen regions of China through a number of new establishments.
Locally, Jiangnan Cuisine restaurant, which opened in the Outer Balboa neighborhood in May, 2017, is bringing the sweet and savory taste of the Jiangnan region to Bay Area residents.
Zhanyong Shao, chef and part owner of Jiangnan Cuisine, began his culinary journey when he started cooking in his uncle’s restaurant in Wuxi, China as a 16-year-old boy. Several years ago, he and his wife, Yanqin Hua, moved to San Francisco with the shared dream of opening a restaurant of their own where they could introduce a larger audience to the unique tastes of their native Jiangnan.
Jiangnan is a large geographical area of China to the south of the Yangtze River. The biggest city in this prosperous, natural-resource rich region is Shanghai, home to more than 26 million people.
The food from Jiangnan is not too spicy or salty and is characterized by the use of very fresh ingredients, lots of seafood and the skillful use of soy sauce and sugar to make rich, tasty braising sauces.
Some of the most popular dishes at Jiangnan Cuisine, which is open for both lunch and dinner, include its firm mapo tofu with minced pork; “delicious braised pork,” which is served with small quail eggs; sweet and sour spare ribs; and the huge “lion’s head meatball” which comes with a light savory sauce and can be served a la carte or over rice.
A lot of the restaurant’s dishes, including wonton soup and stewed duck in soy sauce, are made “Wuxi Style,” after the unique cooking style of the Wuxi area of Jiangnan where Chef Shao and Hua are from originally.
The restaurant is small, homey and unassuming, with a large painted Chinese mural on one wall. Reception to the restaurant and the regional cuisine of Jiangnan has been very good, with lines often forming on the weekends and customers coming from around the Bay Area and beyond to get a taste of this distinct cuisine.
Chef Shao and his wife hope to some day have a much larger kitchen as they lament that their small current kitchen limits the number and types of Jiangnan dishes that they can put on the menu.
Employee and part owner, Weijie Li, said they love their friendly customers, sharing that, “some of them have become our friends.” Hua said that she loves the fresh air and quiet, safe atmosphere of their Richmond District neighborhood as well.
Neighborhood patron Angelina Yu said, “Jiangnan Cuisine has become such a wonderful and absolutely delicious addition to the Outer Balboa! Their menu transformed classic ingredients in Chinese cuisine into signature dishes with bold flavors that are a rare find in the City. So glad I went with a small group to sample many dishes family-style.”
Jiangnan Cuisine is located at 3420 Balboa St., between 35th and 36th avenues. Phone: (415) 702-9931. For more information, visit: